Irish Senator Supports One of Us Campaign

Ronan Mullen on Life Issues at Home and Around Europe

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Here is an interview of Ronan Mullen by Elisabetta Pittino, regarding the One of Us campaign, and the current legal battle over abortion in Ireland.

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Senator Ronan Mullen is from Ahascragh in Co Galway, Ireland.

He was elected as an independent senator in July 2007 and was re-elected, topping the poll, in 2011. He graduated with a BA from University College Galway and after spending a year as President of the Students Union there, he completed a Masters Degree in Journalism at DCU. He was a spokesperson for the Dublin diocese between 1996 and 2001. In 2003 he was called to the Bar. He also lectures in Law, Communications and Personal Development in the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown. He appears frequently in the media to discuss social and cultural affairs, including topics of spiritual or religious interest.  

In these very challenging times for Ireland and for Europe, we’ve asked some questions to understand politics, respecting ethics.

Q: Why be an independent Senator?

Mullen: I ran for the Senate in 2007 as an independent candidate offering what you might describe as a Christian Democratic perspective on policy and legislation. I look at proposals in terms of how they affect human dignity. I have addressed issues like measures to oppose human trafficking, the protection of unborn children, the importance of marriage for family life, respect for the rights of parents and faith communities in the provision of education etc.

I ran as an Independent because I felt that there was broad support among people of different party affiliations for the views I represent. I chose a university constituency because nomination to this panel was not a problem and because I felt that there were many graduates throughout the country who would support the values I was proposing. Thankfully I was correct in that assessment and I was honoured to be re-elected with an increased vote in 2011.

Ireland has a bicameral parliamentary system with the Senate acting as a review chamber with a role broadly similar to that of the House of Lords in Britain. Six of our sixty senators are elected by university graduates, three by National University of Ireland and three by Trinity College Dublin. We are elected by postal vote.

With occasional exceptions, the university senators have been independent of party political affiliation. Graduates, having voted for their Government at the election to the lower house (Dil), seem to prefer independents in this particular election. I think it is fair to say that the university senators often have a different perspective on policy and legislation than that given by other senators from the political parties.

Q: What is the situation concerning protection of the unborn in Ireland

Mullen: It is a very precarious situation right now.

In 1983 the Irish people voted to amend the Constitution to give recognition to the equal right to life of the unborn child. Unfortunately, that clause was interpreted in a very controversial manner by our Supreme Court in the 1992 X case, a very tragic case that arose from the rape of an underage girl. The Supreme Court interpreted the Pro Life Amendment to mean that abortion was lawful where it was the means of averting a probable real and substantial risk to the life of the mother including where that risk arose via a threat of suicide.

Of course, this situation, if implemented, would lead to potentially wide-ranging abortion. For that reason, there were two attempts over the years to remove the suicide ground for abortion. Unfortunately, these efforts failed because of the complexity of the proposals. On each occasion, there were pro-life people on both sides of the argument. However, I think it has to be said that the liberal bias of the Irish media also played a role in achieving the outcome that would be most favorable to the eventual introduction of abortion into Ireland.

During the 21 years since the X case, the parliament exercised its prerogative not to legislate to give effect to this Supreme Court decision. As former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton put it, he would not legislate for the Supreme Court decision in X because that would bring abortion into Ireland.

However, in December 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland was required to provide clarity in its laws by providing a legal or regulatory mechanism to allow a woman to have determined whether she was entitled to a lawful abortion in Ireland.

This became the basis for a push to liberalize abortion. Our main party of Government, the Christian Democrat Fine Gael party, responded to that decision by promising before the last General Election that, in Government, it would not legislate to allow abortion. The Prime Minister has now reneged on that election commitment. Instead he and his party have caved in to their Government partners, the minority Labour party. The Government has now proposed very dangerous and far-reaching heads of legislation which would permit abortion, without time limits, provided two psychiatrists can agree that abortion is the only means to prevent a pregnant woman from committing suicide and where one obstetrician agrees with them. In reality, this will be a rolling stone. I fear that we will see a year-on-year increase in abortions, effectively on request, in cases that have nothing to do with necessary medical intervention.

A key strategy among abortion proponents over the years has been to medicalise the case for providing abortion. This proposed legislation would allow abortion where two psychiatrists and an obstetrician certify that it is necessary to avert a risk to life by suicide but there is no medical or scientific evidence to suggest that abortion is ever necessary as a treatment for suicidal ideation. Despite the fact that Ireland has impressively low maternal mortality rates, and despite evidence suggesting that abortion increases mental health risks as opposed to ameliorating them, our Government is introducing a dangerous and unjust law. It makes matters worse that the proposal contains no time limits, that there is to be no appeal clause on behalf of the unborn, that the Bill will allow only limited conscientious objection rights for medical personnel and no opt-out at all for healthcare institutions with a pro-life ethos. It is an indictment of our Government that we have arrived at this situation.

Q: What is the responsibility of politicians, political parties of politics towards all involved?

Mullen: We need to recognize that law shapes our culture, and what is permitted by law becomes ever more acceptable socially. Currently, several thousand Irish women travel to Britain and elsewhere for abortions each year. It is a tragedy, but that rate of abortion is much lower than those in Britain, partly because of the educative effect of the law and widespread pro-life sentiment which remains in Irish society.

The Church and others have worked to assist women who are unhappily pregnant to help them see that there is always an alternative to abortion and that love and support is available. We need to redouble our efforts here, but all the good work will be undermined if abortion is made legal in Ireland.

Politicians should be truthful in their utterances on this life-and-death issue, and should never manipulate the public in order to gain support for their proposals. Our Taoiseach’s statement that he is not changing the law is technically true, but his proposed legislation will activate a very dangerous, unjust law that remained unimplemented for 21 years. The Government’s claims that this is a restrictive proposal also fail to withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, there is a widespread corruption of language in this debate as well as a failure to examine the true ramifications of what is proposed.

Q: This political debate is spread out from the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, which was propagated by the medias all around the word as a pro-choice banner. What is
the real story of this case?

Mullen: It should be clear that nobody is opposed, and Irish law certainly permits, all necessary medical interventions to save a mother’s life where she is suffering from a physical illness when pregnant. There is no controversy about that and our low maternal mortality statistics confirm that doctors already do whatever is necessary to save women in our hospitals and that is right and proper.

Unfortunately a tragic case occurred in Galway where an Indian woman, the late Savita Halappanavar, died after developing sepsis when she went into hospital after a miscarriage. She asked for a termination procedure when it emerged that she was miscarrying but this was not deemed appropriate. At that point nobody apprehended that there was any danger to her. Had appropriate monitoring taken place to reveal that there was a real and substantial (not necessarily immediate) risk to her life, a procedure would have been lawful even if that entailed the ending of the pregnancy. Sadly this point has been missed and some have sought to use the tragedy as evidence that the Irish law needs to change. The law is not the problem, as must be clear once we realize that women tragically die from sepsis in pregnancy in other jurisdictions as well, including those which permit abortion.

Q: You organized a Human Dignity Group in Irish parliament

Mullen: A number of members of the national parliament come together from time to time to reflect on law and policy issues affecting human dignity and to hear from guest speakers. My colleague Senator Jim Walsh chairs this group. I am hopeful that more and more parliamentarians will take an interest in this. It is important that as politicians we take the time to reflect on many complex issues coming up for decision.

Within and apart from the Human Dignity Group, we’ve had a number of very successful briefings for parliamentarians on issues concerning respect for the unborn. Some time back, we had a breakfast briefing with a number of families from One Day More, a group of families who have had children with severe or fatal foetal abnormality and who want to see social and legal care and protection for children. They took their name from the story of one of the mothers involved who described how, having heard the bad news of fatal foetal abnormality during her pregnancy, she found herself hoping each day for just “one day more” with the child that she loved and whose death she feared would occur at any time. The families from One Day More gave a very moving presentation, which was attended by a quarter of the entire membership of the parliament. No matter what happens with the abortion legislation, it is important that we continue with such initiatives.

Q: One of Us is the 1st European Citizens Initiative launched by people from all EU, and it asks to the European Institution to affirm the dignity of human being from conception, consequently to ban funding projects that presuppose the destruction of the unborn baby, without speaking about abortion. You signed it, why?

Mullen: I think that One of Us is a very valuable contribution to culture at EU and Irish level. I believe it is vital that we raise public awareness of when exactly life begins, i.e. at conception, and that we promote a culture of respect for life at all stages.

While it is true to say that Ireland faces a more immediate challenge with our Government’s proposal to legalize abortion, I think it is important that we act to respect life in whatever way is possible.

I am grateful to Carlo Casini MEP for taking this initiative, which offers people an opportunity to take a very positive step with relatively little effort. I really hope it succeeds. I have signed up myself and will be encouraging all my supporters to do so as well and to spread the word about it.

One of the great things about the One of Us initiative is that it provides a conversation starter. When we approach people seeking their signature, we have to explain the background and justify our position. That is how it should be. Europe’s future depends on enough people of goodwill having the courage of their conviction to go out and “sell” the culture of life perspective, which is essential for all our happiness and well-being.

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